Alexander Zverev can play like a defending champion – and the villain – it turns out. The third-seeded German, lacking confidence of late, put it all together to knock out David Ferrer 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday night at the Mutua Madrid Open, ending the Spaniard’s legendary career that saw him reach No. 3 in the ATP Rankings and win 27 tour-level titles, including 15 on clay.
The late-night Spanish crowd was amped and eager for Ferrer to extend his retirement tour for at least one more match. The packed La Caja Magica showered the 37-year-old, whose historic work ethic made him beloved by all, with chants of “Ferru! Ferru! Ferru!”
But Zverev, after a nervy start, played some of the best tennis he’s shown all season and began the defence of his ATP Masters 1000 title with a convincing straight-sets win. Ferrer leaves the game as one of the most beloved players and with a reputation for being one of the most respectful and hard-working players on the ATP Tour.
“It’s been a very emotional night. It’s been completely different to any other important moment in my life that I have experienced previously. I was not expecting it.
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“I never expected a goodbye or farewell like today. I tried to play at a high level during the last year, but a day like today, people at work tomorrow, everyone stays here to support me and that is something that I will only have in my mind and in my heart. It’s something I will never forget,” Ferrer said.
“It’s the only match that I have lost and I’m not very sad. Whenever I lost a match in the past, I left very sad. Today I’m not sad. Today is a day that I want to enjoy, and I’m very happy to be able to enjoy a day like today.”
The match began a little before 10 p.m., and it had the feeling of a memorable evening. Ferrer raced ahead, hitting everything he wanted and benefitting from a shaky Zverev, who was tentative with his groundstrokes and struggled on serve, double faulting to give Ferrer, who was hopping in between points, the break in the fourth game.
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After the Spaniard hit a drop shot winner to hold to love for 4-1, he jogged to his chair with his fist raised, and during the changeover, the crowd showered him with “Ferru! Ferru! Ferru!”
But Zverev calmed down and dug in, relying on his defence to break back and win the next five games, along with the opening set. The German was soon into attack mode, whipping crosscourt forehands and pulling Ferrer from side to side, and the Spanish veteran could do little to slow down the three-time Masters 1000 champion, who won 11 of the final 12 games. Zverev will next meet Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who won 86 per cent of his first-serve points (36/42) and beat France’s Lucas Pouille 7-5, 6-1.
“I started the game playing well, playing with a break, but yesterday I finished the match dehydrated, physically very, very tired. And to win against Zverev you have to be in full condition, you have to be very fit,” said Ferrer, who beat countryman Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round.
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“It’s a reality that physically I cannot play more than two straight matches at the level that I would like to play and that is another symptom that says that my life as a tennis player is finishing. But I have been very lucky to be able to choose the moment, the place, and to share it with all of you and with all the people that I love.”
It was also an emotional evening for Zverev, who looked up to Ferrer as a boy. As the 37-year-old Spaniard faced three match points, down 4-6, 1-5, 0/40, Zverev encouraged the crowd to give him a standing ovation. “Come on, everybody,” Zverev said, raising his arms.
Watch Zverev Encourage The Crowd To Support Ferrer
The 21-year-old German looked to be filming the post-match ceremony with his phone and holding back tears as Ferrer, who again left his bandana on the T, was honoured by the tournament.
“He’s the most respectful guy for me on Tour, and one of the most loved people on the Tour as well,” Zverev said. “We’re going to miss him.”
A video shown for all in La Caja Magica played tributes from leading WTA and ATP stars, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Ferrer then spoke for 11 minutes, thanking everyone, from his parents to his longtime coach Javier Piles to the regular fans who sent Ferrer off with one final standing ovation.
Ferrer won the 2012 Rolex Paris Masters for his only Masters 1000 title. But, during retirement, his 27 tour-level titles won’t be his most cherished possessions.
“I never won Madrid. I never won Roland Garros. I never won some tournaments I would’ve loved to win. I have my trophies at home, they’re just trophies, material,” Ferrer said. “What I really take with me is the love you’ve shown me. Always in my heart. Thank you so much.”